Interstate 290 is very tightly routed through the western suburbs and through Chicago’s West Side, with very little room for any kind of expansion. Built prior to the Interstate System, Congress Expressway followed the route of I-290 from Downtown Chicago west to I-88 (Ronald Reagan Tollway) / IL 110 (CKC) and Interstate 294 (Tri-State Tollway).
Planning for a limited access freeway route along Congress Street has a long and rich history, with its initial inclusion in the 1909 Plan of Chicago by Daniel H. Burnham. The 1940 Comprehensive Superhighway System of Chicago (approved by the Chicago City Council) included the Congress Street Expressway on October 31, 1940, and construction was authorized with that action. Work on the road began on December 7, 1949, and the first section to open was between South Ashland Avenue and South Laramie Avenue on December 15, 1955. The remainder of the route between South Ashland Avenue and Grant Park in Downtown Chicago (The Loop) opened on August 10, 1956. The $100 million project was a joint effort between the city, county and state. The Congress Street Expressway (or West Expressway) was renamed on January 10, 1964, to honor former President Dwight D. Eisenhower by the Chicago City Council. The Eisenhower Extension, which led northwest from the Congress Expressway alignment toward Schaumburg, opened in 1971.1,2
The Eisenhower Expressway was numbered as part of transcontinental Interstate 90 once Interstate Highway System markers were placed on Chicago’s expressway network. However, during a major renumbering of the Chicago metropolitan expressways in 1978, as approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) on July 6, 1977, Interstate 290 replaced I-90. Interstate 90 was relocated to the John F. Kennedy Expressway and Jane Addams (Northwest) Memorial Tollway via Interstate 94 and Former IL 194. This renumbering also resulted in the redesignation of IL 594 (O’Hare Airport Spur of Kennedy Expressway) as Interstate 190. The idea was to provide a more direct Interstate 90 corridor from the Northwest Suburbs to Downtown Chicago.
Interstate 290 and IL 53 run concurrently from the village of Itasca, just north of the I-355 end, to I-90 (Jane Addams Memorial Tollway). IL 53 extends as a freeway north from the I-290 end through the city of Rolling Meadows, and around the village of Palatine, to Lake Cook Road. The remainder of the route northeast through the village of Long Grove travels at-grade.
Long standing plans for IL 53 included lengthening the freeway north to an extension of the U.S. 12 freeway southeast from Wisconsin. These plans however have met stiff opposition from community leaders in the affluent Lake County suburbs. One plan called for building a portion of the IL 53 route as a 45 mile per hour parkway, while others called for no build alternatives.
Expansion near the western terminus of Interstate 290 added a lane in each direction, bringing I-290 to eight overall lanes. Further construction completed in Fall 2003 widened I-290 to eight lanes between Woodfield Road (near Exits 1A/B) and Thorndale Avenue (Exit 5). Auxiliary lanes were also constructed in this project.3
A ceremony took place on August 29, 2014 to formally rename the long standing Circle Interchange, where I-90, I-94 and I-290 and IL 110 (Chicago Kansas City Expressway) come together, after former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne. Byrne was the successor to Richard J. Daley and Chicago’s first female mayor. She served one term in office that ended in 1983.4
Located just beyond the east end of Interstate 290 is the the 2.3 million square foot Old Chicago Post Office. Built in phases between 1921 and 1932, the world’s largest post office ceased operations in 1996. Design of the structure included a 40 foot wide opening through the center to accommodate the planned Congress Street extension from the South Loop to Chicago’s West Side. The Congress Expressway was completed below the post office building in 1955.5
The vacant Old Chicago Post Office was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. An agreement between the city of Chicago and 601W, the building’s owner, in 2016 allowed work to commence on a $500 million plus renovation project. The planned three phase project remedied more than 20 code violations and included replacing the roof, repairing the facade and restoring the historic lobby.6 Work underway through 2017 involved replacing 2,200 windows and competing the full renovation of the lobby off Van Burent Street. Investment for the conversion of the art deco building into office space, restaurants, retail and park space topped $800 million, and over 23 tons of debris were hauled away by 2017. Work extended to March 2019.7,8 The Old Post Office opened for business in October 2019.